February 07, 2019 13:24
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un "will meet again on [Feb.] 27 and 28 in Vietnam." That is in principle good news, but something does not sound right.
A team of U.S. officials were flying to Pyongyang even as Trump announced his summit, which means it was announced before preparations were complete. The same thing happened ahead of the first summit in Singapore last year. North Korea refused to include any mention of denuclearization in preparatory talks because the date of the summit had already been announced. That is why "normalization of diplomatic relations" and "establishment of a peace framework" appeared before "denuclearization" in the joint statement the two leaders issued afterwards. North Korea succeeded in its strategy of avoiding details of denuclearization and focusing instead on the U.S. president's extemporaneous style. And every time the U.S. called on North Korea to take denuclearization steps, the North demanded that Washington "uphold the spirit of the Singapore summit." It is unnerving to see the second summit heading in the same direction.
Trump was his usual boastful self about the results of his next summit with Kim. In an interview with CBS, he said, "I think he's also tired of going through what he's going through." In other words, Trump hopes the North will take concrete steps toward denuclearization to overcome international sanctions. But at the same time the U.S. seems willing to ease sanctions in exchange for the first steps toward denuclearization North Korea takes. Perhaps that is why U.S. government officials no longer promised to uphold sanctions until North Korea completes its denuclearization process.
Meanwhile, it is good news that the U.S. and South Korea finally reached an agreement over sharing the cost of maintaining 28,500 American soldiers in the South. That has made it less likely for Trump to wave the U.S. troop deployment card as a bargaining chip in talks with Kim. Indeed, Trump said himself that there were absolutely no discussions with the North over U.S. troop reduction. But the last time he unexpectedly promised an end to annual joint military exercises with South Korea without even discussing the matter with his own top brass, so there is no telling what unexpected announcements may happen this time.
Last year, North Korea took absolutely no concrete steps toward denuclearization. Top U.S. intelligence officials believe North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons, while UN officials in charge of sanctions against the North in a report said they discovered evidence that Pyongyang scattered its nuclear weapons and missile facilities across the country in order to keep those projects going. Preparatory talks and a summit between the U.S. and North Korea will produce meaningful results only if they arrive at a solid pledge by Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear weapons.
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